All eyes will be on a slew of defenders during Oklahoma’s spring football practices this year
The putrid performance left Sooner fans wondering what defensive coordinator Mike Stoops can do to fix his side of the ball in 2018. (In fact, plenty probably wish somebody else was in charge of getting the D back on the right track.) Most of the players worth keeping an eye on in Norman this spring are expected to have a hand in the defensive reclamation project.
Kyler Murray, QB
You might have heard of the guy Murray is slated to replace this season, Baker Mayfield. The Heisman Trophy winner will go down as arguably the best player in this storied history of Oklahoma football and will likely be selected in the first round of the NFL draft this spring.
Murray sparkled in limited action last season as Mayfield’s understudy. However, now that he’s atop the depth chart, Murray is playing a new role for both the offense and the team. The spring session gives him an opportunity to develop his own style and rapport with the rest of the offense. At the same time, his teammates — and Lincoln Riley — get a chance to see what their new quarterback can do and to adjust to how he operates when he’s in charge of the O.
Brendan Radley-Hiles, DB
Radley-Hiles, the most touted recruit in Oklahoma’s 2018 class, enrolled early to get a jump on his bid for a starting spot in the Sooners’ secondary. The five-star cover man’s presence alone should scare the returnees in OU’s defensive backfield into competing harder for their jobs after they struggled so badly to stop the pass last season.
Stoops and secondary coach Kerry Cooks might also work in the spring to develop a personnel package to get Radley-Hiles on the field in a nickelback-type role. He could even get some work in the return game on special teams.
Robert Barnes, S
Continuing a theme, the Sooners are searching desperately this spring for a new safety tandem to replace departed starters Will Johnson and Steven Parker. In fact, OU needs more than just replacements for the up-and-down duo &nmash; they need to upgrade the position group.
Barnes flashed some promise last season as a rotation player in his freshman year. In particular, he showed that he could provide strong support against the zone read and other staples of the spread running game. His continued development in year two would go a long way towards helping the Sooners fix some of the cracks in their defense.
Jon-Michael Terry, ILB
A preseason injury in the fall essentially knocked Terry out of the running for the starting job at MIKE linebacker in 2017, which eventually went to true freshman Kenneth Murray. Now a third-year sophomore, Terry, will again find himself in the mix for the gig this spring. If Terry can prove that he’s up to the task at MIKE, it could free linebackers coach Tim Kish to consider shifting Murray over to WILL linebacker, a position that better suits the skill set of OU’s leading returning tackler.
Caleb Kelly, LB
Kelly didn’t have a poor 2017 campaign as OU’s SAM outside linebacker. On the other hand, the former five-star recruit didn’t make the impact on the defense that was expected in his sophomore season. That, coupled with the overall malaise on the defensive side of the ball in the last two seasons, has prompted speculation that Kelly could move to inside linebacker this year as part of a larger scheme overhaul in Norman.
For his part, Stoops has given no indication that a move for Kelly is in the cards. Even if not, turning Kelly into more of a force will be key to cleaning up OU’s defense in the fall. That process starts this spring.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.